Conduct an Honest Conversation with Your Teens
for Career Selection
I rarely encounter a student who considers major selection until the moment she is about to prepare a university application. It’s unreasonable to blame an 18-year old teen for why she has no idea about what she wants to study. Frankly, parents are ultimately responsible for guiding their kids at the most crucial moments in life. The unfortunate fact is, most parents never conduct conversations with their children regarding future majors and careers when they are in Gr 8 or 9. Nevertheless, those same parents become anxious and increasingly struggle when their kids face the fork in the road for making a selection.
There are several reasons that parents continuously neglect their teens’ needs in career coaching. Primarily, parents assume it’s too early to consider their kids’ career paths in the misconception that such a decision will bring limitations to their kids’ brightest future. Parents with such a mindset never realize that keeping options open means no options. They assume that choosing a career is a deterministic outcome. Therefore, parents keep asking me, “what if they have changed their minds?”
In fact, career selection is an ongoing event to narrow down the kids’ options.
Of course, kids could change their minds along the way and such pivoting in career selection actually has a high occurrence rate when kids gain more knowledge, skill, and experience. However, if you don’t start a constructive conversation with your teens today, they will never have the consciousness to validate their hypotheses such as “is being an accountant a fit for me?” Only through purposeful learning and understanding of the career they might pursue, they can really determine if they have made a wise choice. Career selections must go through a series of guided exploration to fine-tune into a path that suits teens’ strengths, interests, and with opportunity cost and financial returns in mind.
Second, parents assume their kids will be able to make the best choice for themselves or it’s the school counselor’s job to advise their kids. I view these parents as unwilling to spend time cultivating their kids by shaking off responsibilities – “when they made a bad choice, they won’t blame me.” Unfortunately, the lack of mentoring and guidance regarding career planning exerts tremendous stress and anxiety on teens.
According to the National Centre for Education Statistics in the U.S. Department of Education, almost 80% of university students change their major at least once. Only 44.2% of bachelor’s degree recipients earn a four-year degree in four years or less.
Students select a major unconsciously when they are told by the faculty administrator to do so without anticipating the consequence. They later realize that they have no interest in the taken courses, or discovered the current major leads to suboptimal career paths. Nevertheless, even many students have the privilege to reselect during university, changing majors in the middle of a degree brings tremendous frustration, graduation delay, and financial burdens.
Many times, I found parents impose their idea on their teen’s career choices without proper coaching. A parent decides his daughter will be a doctor in the future because the doctor makes tons of money. Some other times, parents observe what other “superstar” kids do, and expect their daughter does the same. I hear one parent saying “my colleague’s son became an engineer at Google and my kid will do the same.” Parents who are authoritative by mandating career goals suffer from rebellious child behavior, a child’s lack of trust with parents, and, ultimately, a high risk of selecting a career that the kid ends up hating and regretting.
The value of career coaching is to help teens envision a realistic range of options that fit their strengths and interests, rather than prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution.
I am not saying that parents are always wrong in deciding their kids’ career paths. In fact, a child is highly influenced by his family and surroundings. Regardless, parents with insufficient knowledge in career consulting will eventually limit children’s options. Not surprisingly, kids are unable to envision themselves doing jobs that they have never seen or heard of. For this reason, it’s wise for parents to help their kids cast a wide net and explore career opportunities that are not immediately obvious.
Teens are disengaged in school since they have no idea why they are studying every day. It is very difficult for parents to have an informative and authentic conversation with teens about their future careers. It’s even more challenging to relate the role of academic preparation with the development of career success. However, parents must be conscious of the importance of career advice for teens. You talk about career selection with children not because you are limiting, but nourishing and creating their futures.
Smith, S. M., & Fanning, S. (2017). Who do you think you are?: Three crucial conversations for coaching teens to college and career success (1st ed.). Standards Information Network.